The Nikolas Cruz’s Sentencing Trial: A Breakdown of Events

On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and repeatedly fired a gun at students and teachers. His shots injured 17 and killed 17.

Now four years later, a jury will determine what the punishment for his actions will be.

The jury will decide if Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison or death.

A Trial to Determine the Punishment for a Horrific Shooting

There is no question that Cruz is responsible for the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The evidence is abundant, and Cruz didn’t challenge the charges against him.

Cruz plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Because Cruz plead guilty, there was no trial to determine his guilt, but there is now a trial to determine the punishment for his crimes.

The trial will determine if Cruz, now 23, will be sentenced to life in prison or death.

How Does the Sentencing Trial Work?

The trial process began by selecting 12 jurors and two alternatives. It took three months to choose the seven men and five women for the jury, as reported by NBC Miami.

The jury is responsible for listening to the prosecution’s case and reasons for why Cruz should receive the death penalty, as well as listening to the defense’s case for why Cruz’s life should be spared.

For Cruz to get the death penalty, the jury must unanimously vote for the death penalty in at least one of the counts. 

Because 17 people were murdered, there are 17 counts. It will only take one unanimous vote on one of the counts for Cruz to receive the death penalty. But, if just one juror votes against the death penalty in each count, Cruz will receive a life sentence.

Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect

The Defense Presents Its Case

The trial started with the defense laying out their arguments for why Cruz’s life should be spared. On August 22, the defense presented opening statements and began calling witnesses.

The defense team brought in 25 witnesses over eleven days. Witnesses ranged from Cruz’s half-sister who testified that she saw her mother using drugs while pregnant with Cruz to Cruz’s former teachers and principal who discussed behavioral issues that Cruz had as a young child.

The defense tried to make the case that Cruz’s troubled history is what left Cruz physically, mentally, and emotionally unstable.

On September 14, with roughly 40 more witnesses on their list, the defense suddenly rested their case — to the surprise of the judge.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

Sparks Between the Judge and the Defense

On September 14, Judge Elizabeth Scherer was visibly upset when the defense unexpectedly rested their case just moments before the jury was supposed to walk into the courtroom.

The defense started the day by resting their case without prior notice, which meant prosecutors weren’t ready to present their case and the entire court would need to be dismissed for the day.

Judge Scherer was not pleased with the defense and let them know. She said, “I just want to say this is the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try the case.”

Melisa McNeill, a member of the defense team, attempted to respond, but she was cut off by Judge Scherer. “You know what, I don’t want to hear it,” Judge Scherer said.

Two days later, the defense filed a motion asking the judge to disqualify herself from the case. The defense argued that Judge Scherer showed animosity toward lead defense attorney Melisa McNeil and that, “Mr. Cruz has a reasonable belief that the rulings of the Court have been influenced by its adverse feelings.”

Judge Scherer denied the motion and will remain on the case.

The Prosecution Begins Their Rebuttal

Now that the defense has rested, prosecutors have started to present evidence rebutting the defense’s case. After a short delay due to Hurricane Ian, the prosecutors are back to challenging the narratives presented by the defense and bringing in their own witnesses.

Once the defense rests, Cruz’s future will be in the hands of the jury.

The jury can choose to sentence him to life in prison or unanimously hand down the death penalty.

Related: What to Ask During a Free Consultation with a Lawyer

Have a Trusted Attorney By Your Side

Court cases can have unexpected challenges, twists, and turns, no matter what side of the courtroom you are on. If you are involved in a legal matter, make sure you have a trusted attorney on your side to guide you through the complicated legal process. If you have a case to discuss, see how TJ Grimaldi can help. Call now or schedule your meeting to see how TJ can be a trusted attorney by your side.

Standing Against Gun Violence

TJ Grimaldi is proud to stand with the victims of gun violence.

TJ is an Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation which provides funds to help kids get what they need in the wake of being directly or indirectly impacted by gun violence. The organization was created to honor the life and legacy of Chad Oulson, whose life ended in a senseless act of gun violence. Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can also help victims of gun violence.

Why Was “Serial” Podcast Subject Adnan Syed Released From Prison?

In 1999, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee was found dead. Despite her ex-boyfriend’s claims that he was innocent, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. Now, after more than twenty years and a popular podcast about the murder, Syed is out of prison.

Will “Serial” podcast subject Adnan Syed become a free man?

Syed Found Guilty for The Murder of Hae Min Lee

In 1999, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee went missing. After a month of searching, Lee was found buried in a park near Baltimore, Maryland. Her death was ruled a homicide by strangulation.

The investigation into her murder led to 17-year-old Adnan Syed. Syed was Lee’s ex-boyfriend, and two pieces of evidence made him a prime suspect. Cell phone records showed a ping from Syed’s phone on a tower near the park where Lee was found. More telling, a classmate of Syed and Lee testified that he helped Syed bury Lee’s body.

The two pieces of evidence were enough to lead a jury to convict Syed. He was found guilty of murder, robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment and was sentenced to life in prison.

“Serial” Podcast Exposes Holes in Syed’s Conviction

Fourteen years after the verdict, Syed became the subject of the podcast, Serial.

The podcast, released in 2014, was extremely popular and downloaded around 100 million times. It revisited Syed’s case, pointing out the holes in the story and presenting the possibility that Syed was innocent.

Among the evidence was the statement of Asia McClain. A fellow classmate, McClaim said she was with Syed at the time of the murder. She said she contacted Syed’s attorney at the time of the trial because she wanted to testify, but Syed’s attorney never contacted her.

The podcast highlighted other errors made by Syed’s attorney, Maria Cristina Gutierrez and documented how she was disbarred in 2001 after multiple client complaints. The podcast also shared how physical evidence was never tested for DNA and that the cell phone tower data might not have been credible.

Many listeners began to believe in the possibility of Syed’s innocence. But, could a podcast reverse a verdict?

Moving Through The Appeals Process

Many listeners hoped Syed’s case might be reversed in February 2015 when a court agreed to hear an appeal and granted a hearing to introduce new evidence. The appeals process was slow and long. The case went back and forth with appeals from both sides, and in 2018, Maryland’s highest court eventually denied Syed a new trial. The Supreme Court refused to hear his case, and it seemed Syed had run out of options.

Then, a new Maryland law brought Syed’s case back into the court system in 2022.

The Maryland law allows “prosecutors the discretion to modify sentences of offenders who were under 18 at the time of their crimes and had served at least 20 years in prison.” So in March 2022, prosecutors agreed to review Syed’s case and conduct new DNA testing due to advances in genetics profiling.

The investigation found multiple reasons to believe Syed’s conviction may be incorrect.

As reported by The New York Times, prosecutors said their investigation found:

  • The potential involvement of two “alternative suspects”
  • Key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Syed’s lawyers
  • “Significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence” presented at trial

In September 2022, prosecutors officially asked for Syed’s conviction to be overturned. Marilyn J. Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City, said in a statement, “After a nearly yearlong investigation reviewing the facts of this case, Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented.”

Will Syed Go Free?

On September 19, 2022, Judge Melissa M. Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit Court vacated Syed’s conviction, stating that prosecutors made a compelling argument that Syed’s conviction was flawed.

At age 41, Syed walked out of prison.

Syed’s legal story isn’t over just yet. He must remain under home detention while prosecutors decide what to do about his case. Maryland prosecutors have 30 days to decide if they want to proceed with a new trial or drop the charges.

If they decide to have a new trial, Syed will have another chance to prove his innocence in court.

If they decide to drop the charges, Syed will walk away as a free man.

The Importance of a Strong Legal Defense

Syed’s case is a reminder of how important it is to have a strong legal defense team. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, make sure you have a criminal defense attorney who will fight for you to get the most just and fair outcome.

To discuss any pending criminal cases, talk to TJ Grimaldi today. Schedule your meeting or call 813-226-1023 now.

What’s the Future for Miranda Rights After Supreme Court Decision?

Lately, all eyes have been on the Supreme Court as they have released recent decisions on everything from abortion to school funding to the government’s control over environmental issues.

As it relates to the law, one case in particular has gained attention.

A ruling regarding Miranda Rights has implications for anyone arrested for a crime. What did the ruling say? And, what does it mean for both police and the public?

What Are Miranda Rights?

You have the right to remain silent.

The statement above is the beginning of what is referred to as Miranda Rights. Miranda Rights are a statement said by police to someone immediately after they have been arrested for a crime. While the wording doesn’t need to be exact, the statement must touch on four points.

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say can be used against you.
  • You have the right to an attorney
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be assigned to you.

Miranda Rights were created in 1966 as a result of the Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. The statement was created to protect a suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights, which protects a person from self-incrimination.

If police fail to issue Miranda Rights, the statements made by an arrestee after the arrest may not be able to be used in court (although there are some exceptions). Recently the Supreme Court issued a ruling on what else happens — or doesn’t happen — if police fail to issue Miranda Rights.

What Was the Supreme Court’s Ruling?

The recent Supreme Court case wasn’t related to whether or not police must issue Miranda Rights. It had to do with an arrestee’s right to sue if their Miranda Rights weren’t issued at the time of the arrest.

A federal law allows people to sue government offices for violating their constitutional rights. The Supreme Court case looked at whether failing to read Miranda Rights was a violation of a civil right. The Court found that it wasn’t.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said failing to read Miranda Rights was not a violation of civil rights, and it shielded police from being sued if they failed to issue Miranda Rights.

The Supreme Court did not say that police are no longer required to issue Miranda Rights. Even after the Court’s ruling, police are still legally required to issue Miranda Rights.

So, what does the ruling mean for law enforcement and the public?

Related: Find The Best Legal Representation by Asking This One Question

What Does the Ruling Mean for Law Enforcement?

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter, and St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway gave statements to the Tampa Bay Times indicating that they don’t believe the ruling will have much bearing on the way their officers conduct arrests.

According to their statements, police still have a major incentive to issue Miranda Rights.

If police fail to issue Miranda Rights, they cannot use evidence collected from statements made by the arrestee. Law enforcement officials say officers are inclined to collect as much admissible evidence as possible, so they will read Miranda Rights to ensure that they can collect and use evidence.

“If the officer wants to make sure that he or she has a strong case against the person they just arrested, then they need to read Miranda,” said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

What Does the Ruling Mean for the Public?

While many law enforcement officials believe the Supreme Court ruling should have no bearing on fair arrest processes, some civil rights advocates and legal experts have concerns.

Judith Scully, a criminal law professor at the Stetson University College of Law says, “They [the Supreme Court] recognize the police officers’ conduct as being unethical, perhaps even unacceptable, but they are not willing to say that it’s unconstitutional. They draw a distinction between ethics, acceptability, and constitutionality.”

Concerns are that the new ruling decreases the accountability of police officers. It’s unlikely that law enforcement departments will discipline officers for failing to read Miranda Rights, and now, there is no civil recourse either.

For the public, it’s more important than ever to know your rights. Even if you aren’t read your Miranda Rights, you should know that protections still exist. If you find that your rights were violated, get good legal representation to ensure that you can dismiss any evidence that was collected unlawfully.

Related: The Best Criminal Defense Attorneys Have These 7 Qualities

Talk To a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are arrested for a crime, you have rights. Make sure you know your rights and that you have a criminal defense attorney by your side who will fight for your rights. If you have been arrested for a crime and need expert legal counsel, talk to TJ Grimaldi today.

TJ is committed to fighting for his clients and getting them the most fair and just outcomes possible. Talk to TJ about the details of your case today. Call 813-226-1023 or request your consultation to schedule a time to talk and make a legal plan for your case.

How Will 24 Sexual Misconduct Lawsuits Affect Deshaun Watson’s Future?

At the top of his game, Deshaun Watson had a multi-million dollar deal playing football for the Houston Texas. Now, his life is in limbo as two different types of courts and the NFL look into sexual misconduct accusations made against him by more than 20 women. How will the criminal, civil, or NFL league investigations affect his future?

What Is Deshaun Watson Accused of Doing?

Before March 2021, Deshaun Watson was mostly known for his work on the football field. The NFL quarterback had signed a four-year contract worth nearly $111 million with the Houston Texans. But, all of that changed when a line of women began acussing Watson of sexual misconduct.

What started as three civil suits against Watson eventually ballooned to 24 lawsuits. All of the civil lawsuits were filed in Harris County, Texas, and each alleged that Watson conducted varying levels of sexual misconduct. The lawsuits recount incidents said to have happened between March 2020 and March 2021, and two of the cases included claims of sexual assault.

According to The New York Times, “Watson was said in both cases to have pressured women to perform oral sex during massages and was accused in one of also having grabbed a woman’s buttocks and vagina. The civil suits alleged that Watson engaged in a pattern of lewd behavior with women hired to provide personal services, coercing them to touch him in a sexual manner, exposing himself to women he had hired for massages, or moving his body in ways that forced them to touch his penis.”

So, what do the allegations mean for Watson legally and professionally?

Related: Get Good Legal Representation by Asking This One Question

Potential Consequences in Civil Court

The 24 lawsuits against Watson were filed in civil court. As of June 21, 2022, Watson has settled 20 of the cases. The attorney representing the women, Tony Buzbee, issued a statement saying that the terms and amounts of the settlements were confidential and that those cases would be dismissed once finalized.

There are four remaining civil cases against Watson. The cases will either be settled outside of court like the other 20 cases or they could lead to a trial that could end with Watson paying financial damages if found guilty.

The 24 cases filed against Watson are in civil court, which means they carry no potential consequences related to jail time or fines. But the civil charges did spark a criminal investigation that could have led to those consequences.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

Potential Consequences in Criminal Court

In April 2021, the Houston Police Department began investigating the allegations made against Watson. At that time, 21 civil lawsuits had been filed against him.

Almost a year later, in March 2022, a grand jury in Harris County declined to bring charges against Watson on any of nine criminal complaints. A second grand jury in Brazoria County, Texas, also declined to indict Watson on charges of sexual misconduct, as reported by The Athletic.

Watson never faced criminal charges related to the allegations, and at this time, he faces no potential criminal consequences.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Potential Consequences from the NFL

The allegations made against Watson put his career with the NFL in limbo. Shortly after the civil suits were filed, the NFL opened an investigation into Watson’s conduct in March 2021.

The investigation has been ongoing for over a year and, in that time, Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March 2022.

The investigation led to a recent three-day NFL disciplinary hearing that will determine if Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson, the arbiter jointly appointed by the NFL and the players’ union, oversaw the hearing which wrapped up in late June 2022.

Robinson will determine what punishment, if any, Watson will face from the NFL. If Robinson finds that Watson was not in violation of the policy, the case will be closed with no consequence to Watson. If Robinson finds Watson in violation of the policy, he could be suspended from the league for a year.

Either side could appeal Robinson’s ruling. In that case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person he chooses would make the final ruling, according to The ruling is expected to be delivered before the Browns start training camp on July 26, 2022.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

Talk to an Experienced Civil and Criminal Attorney

In many cases, the lines between civil and criminal charges can blur together. If you are facing charges in either type of court, it is a serious matter. Talk to an attorney right away who can offer advice in both types of law. TJ Grimaldi has experience in both civil and criminal matters. Call 813-226-1023 or request your consultation today to talk to TJ about the details of your case.

Mother Faces Manslaughter Charges After Her Toddler Shoots and Kills His Father

Toddler Shooting

It was a tragedy that could have been prevented. A two-year-old had access to a gun. He found it and accidentally fired it at his dad, killing him. Now, the mother of the child is facing criminal charges and will face the consequences of the terrible accident.

How Did a Two-Year-Old Shoot His Father?

Reggie Mabry, 26, and Marie Ayala, 28, lived in an Orlando home with their three young children. One afternoon, Mabry was playing video games in the same room as two of his sons — and a loaded gun.

A shot went off and hit Mabry. Ayala called the police and began performing CPR on Mabry. First responders arrived, but it was too late. Mabry was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

At first, investigators thought the shooting was suicide. Then, one of the boys in the room told his mom and authorities what happened. The five-year-old didn’t know how the younger boy got a hold of the weapon, but he said the two-year-old had found the gun and shot it, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

At this point, the responsibility for the shooting fell onto the mother.

Why Was the Mother Charged?

Ayala was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence, among other charges. Authorities say she was responsible for the child having access to the gun, which made her responsible for the shooting and death of Mabry.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said, “The gun was not properly stored. In fact, it was easily accessible, even to a two-year-old, and the result is a tragedy that no one in this community can really comprehend.”

It turned out that there should never have been a gun in the house in the first place. Both Mabry and Ayala are convicted felons and were not legally allowed to possess a gun.

Related: Misdemeanor vs Felony: What’s the Difference? 

What Is Manslaughter?

In addition to the manslaughter by culpable negligence charge, Ayala also faces charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, and violation of probation. In the past, both Ayala and Mabry had been on probation for child neglect and narcotics possession.

A manslaughter charge is a step below a murder charge, but it is very serious. In Florida, manslaughter by culpable negligence is a second-degree felony.

Manslaughter is defined under Florida Statute 782.07. It’s different from a murder charge because there is no intent to kill. In manslaughter cases, the defendant did one or more of the following.

  • Intentionally completed an act that led to the death of another person.
  • Persuaded or encouraged another person to complete an act that led to that person’s death.
  • Was culpably negligent which led to the death of another person.

It is not entirely unusual for a parent to be held liable for the action of their children.

In December 2021, the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after they bought their son a gun which he took to school and used to injure seven people and kill four more. His parents each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each person killed by their son.

Related: How Much Jail Time Could Parents of Oxford School Shooter Get?   

What Consequences Does the Mother Face?

In Florida, the consequence for manslaughter by culpable negligence is up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.

Ayala faces these penalties, as well the penalties from the other charges: possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, and violation of probation.

Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon alone can result in up to 15 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and up to 15 years of probation.

In some situations, a criminal manslaughter case can also lead to a civil wrongful death case. Families of those killed can file a civil case against the party whose negligence led to the death of their loved one. At this time, a wrongful death case seems unlikely since the man who died was married to the woman being held liable for his death.

In the end, it’s a terrible tragedy that will impact the lives of the entire family, and it could have easily been prevented.

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death? 

Protect Your Family and Yourself

Serious criminal charges can impact you and your entire family. If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges, talk to a criminal defense attorney right away. If you have a case to discuss, contact the office of TJ Grimaldi today.

Talk to TJ directly about the details of your case. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

How Will the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Case End? 6 Outcomes to Consider

All eyes will soon be on the jury of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation case. The trial is expected to end this week, and the jury will begin their deliberations.

What facts will the jury consider, and what are the possible outcomes of the case that has captured national attention?

The Facts of the Case

In 2018, Amber Heard wrote an editorial for The Washington Post indicating that she was a survivor of domestic abuse. While the article didn’t name Johnny Depp as Heard’s abuser, many people assumed the article was about Depp because the couple’s tumultuous relationship had been widely publicized throughout the years. Depp alleged that Heard’s story was fabricated and that the article led to financial hardship for him.

Depp filed a $50 million defamation civil suit against Heard in Fairfax County, Virginia (where the servers for The Washington Post are located) in an attempt to recoup the losses he said he experienced.

During the trial, two witnesses testified in an attempt to show the value of Depp’s losses. A forensic accountant testified that Depp lost $40 million in income after Heard’s allegations. Depp’s talent manager testified that Depp lost a $22.5 million deal with Disney for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after Heard’s article was published.

In response to Depp’s lawsuit, Heard filed a countersuit for $100 million.

Heard says that after Depp’s attorney told The Daily Mail that the actress’s allegations were an “abuse hoax,” she also experienced financial losses of her own, according to the New York Times. Heard’s attorneys say she was unable to find work after Depp’s “attempt to destroy and defame Ms. Heard in the press.” Unlike Depp, Heard hasn’t shown how she came up with the $100 million amount. Heard’s talent agent testified that her career prospects fell off after claims from Depp’s legal team, but the agent did not include specific financial numbers.

Related: Why Is Johnny Depp Suing His Ex-Wife, Amber Heard for $50 Million

What Does the Jury Have to Consider?

Both defamation cases have been wrapped into one trial. Seven jurors will determine if the defamation claims are accurate and if so, how much should be awarded in damages. The verdict must be unanimous.

Unlike a criminal case, the jury does not need to find the evidence convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. They only need to determine which side presented a stronger case.

The jury will decide whether or not they believe Heard’s claims of abuse to be legitimate. If they believe her claims match what happened, the defamation case is likely to swing her way. If they believe her claims were fabricated, the case will likely end in Depp’s favor.

The jury must also consider whether or not there was malice to defame one another. They must determine whether or not the exes choose to speak publicly about each other in a clear attempt to bring harm to one another.

If the jury decides one party attempted to defame the other, they will also have to determine how much the defamation cost the harmed party. The defamed party will need to clearly show how they arrived at the requested amount of damages.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

What Are the Possible Outcomes?

As the trial comes to an end, the seven jurors will make their judgment. What decisions could they come up with? There are a few possible outcomes.

Depp wins and is awarded the full $50 million. For this outcome, the jury would need to find that Heard’s claims were fabricated and intended to defame Depp and that the claims led to a loss valued at around $50 million for Depp.

Depp wins and is awarded less than $50 million. The jury may find that Heard’s claims were fabricated and intended to defame Depp but that the claims didn’t lead to a full $50 million in losses.

Heard wins and is awarded $100 million. If the jury believes Heard’s claims and that Depp’s legal team acted to discredit her, she may walk away with the full $100 million if the jury believes she experienced damages in that amount.

Heard wins and is awarded less than $100 million. The jury may believe Heard’s side of the story but not the amount of damages she experienced. She could win the case but walk away with a smaller amount of money in damages.

Neither is awarded damages. The jury could decide that no one in the case deserves damages.

The couple agrees to an out-of-court settlement. The couple’s legal teams could meet outside of the court and decide on a settlement of their own. This scenario is unlikely considering that the trial has already gone on for weeks.

We will have to wait and see what the jury decides. Even then, it is likely that the case will continue on as there is the potential for either side to file an appeal after this case concludes.

Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect

Protect Your Interests

As we have seen with the Depp and Heard case, a lawsuit can completely disrupt your life. If you are facing a civil or criminal case, you need an attorney by your side who can give you advice and fight for you.

If you are in need of a personal injury attorney or criminal law representation, talk to an attorney right away. Schedule a free consultation to talk to TJ Grimaldi to share the details of your case and see how our experienced legal team can help. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.

Florida Sheriff Encourages Homeowners to Shoot Burglars. Is It Good Advice?

When police in Santa Rosa, Florida, finally caught a burglar who had broken into multiple homes, they saw he had a gunshot wound. The County Sheriff seemed to salute the shooter and encourage others to shoot at anyone who breaks into their property. Is this good advice?

Florida Sheriff Praises Person Who Shot Home Burglar

On a Wednesday night in April, a neighborhood in Pace, Florida, had a flood of break-ins. Multiple residents called to report that someone had broken into their houses. When police showed up, they pursued the culprit as he ran away, jumping over fences and continuing to break into houses.

When they finally caught the 32-year-old suspect, he was wounded. He was shot, but not by a police officer. A homeowner had shot him presumably while the burglar was on their property. No one claimed responsibility for the shooting, and the burglar was arrested.

It seems that Santa Rosa County Sheriff, Bob Johnson approved of the shooting, according to statements he made at a press conference.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Sheriff Johnson commended the shooter, saying he or she should attend a gun safety course to “learn to shoot a lot better” and “save the taxpayers money.”

“If someone is breaking into your house, you’re more than welcome to shoot at them in Santa Rosa County. We’d prefer that you do actually,” he said.

The sheriff also encouraged other residents to take action if they find someone breaking into their house. He invited people to take the sheriff’s office gun safety course offered every other Saturday, adding, “If you take that, you’ll shoot a lot better, and hopefully, you’ll save the taxpayers money.”

It begs the question: is it legal to shoot someone who breaks into your house, whether or not the local sheriff told you to?

Related: The Best Criminal Defense Attorneys Have These 7 Qualities

What Happens if You Shoot a Burglar on Your Property in Florida?

In the burglar shooting, it appears that no homeowner wanted to admit that they shot the culprit. Even after the sheriff’s encouraging words, no one came forward to take responsibility. It seems that whoever shot the burglar didn’t want to face any potential attention or consequences for their actions.

Without knowing the full details of what happened, we can’t know if what the shooter did would leave them in legal trouble. But, we can look at Florida laws to see what laws relate to the incident.

Florida Statute 776.031 outlines the use or threatened use of force in defense of property. It says a person is not permitted to use deadly force to prevent trespass. But, it also says a person is justified in “using or threatening to use deadly force only if he or she reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

According to this part of Florida law, it may be lawful to shoot someone if they break into your property and you believe they are going to commit a felony.

Another Florida law also relates to the situation.

Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, individuals can use deadly force as a means to protect themselves without first retreating from the threat. Florida Statute 776.012 says, “The use of deadly force is justifiable when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person shall be.”

According to this part of Florida law, it may be lawful to shoot someone if they break into your property and you believe they are going to murder you or someone else.

Related: What to Ask During a Free Consultation with a Lawyer

So, Is It Legal to Shoot an Intruder?

While Santa Rosa County Sheriff Johnson may have encouraged homeowners to shoot people on their property, it may not be as cut and dry as he made it sound.

If a person is in their home and feels that they have a reasonable fear of imminent death, danger, or bodily harm from an intruder or if they believe the intruder is about to commit a felony, the homeowner may be able to shoot and kill a person and not face any legal consequences.

But, it isn’t always a sure thing.

If you shoot someone, you would need to prove that you thought the intruder was going to commit a felony or harm you. Also, if you shoot an intruder in the back, you may not be able to use the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Work with a Criminal Defense

Even if you shoot someone in self-defense, you should still talk to a criminal defense attorney. Cases are rarely as cut and dry as they seem. An experienced attorney can protect your rights and ensure that you get the most fair and just outcome possible.

For criminal defense legal support, schedule a time to talk to TJ Grimaldi today. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

Will Self Defense Claim Work in Florida Road Rage Murder Trial?

When two drivers encountered each other on the narrow and quiet streets of St. Petersburg’s Historic Old Northeast neighborhood, no one would have guessed it would have led to road rage, a shooting, and the death of one man.

Now, a trial has finally started almost three years later to determine if the shooter will walk away after claiming he shot two men in self-defense.

What Happened on the Road?

On March 27, 2019, Quentin Hicks, 42, was driving a black convertible BMW while in town visiting from California. He was on his way to see his father and in his front passenger seat was Tyler Oliverbrooks Acker, now 34.

The two were driving through the narrow streets of St. Petersburg’s Historic Old Northeast neighborhood when Acker says they thought they had the right-of-way and drove through an intersection. At that time, they were cut off by a Blue Hyundai Santa Fe driven by William Shutt, now 34. The BMW turned down a street and then the car driven by Shutt appeared again and began to taunt them.

According to reports, Hicks and Shutt then pulled up next to each other at the same intersection.

Acker and Shutt have different accounts of what happened next.

Shutt’s attorney, Roger Futerman, says the two men in the BMW yelled at his client. According to a story by the Tampa Bay Times, Futerman said Hicks yelled, “I’m going to f – – king kill you,” at Shutt, and that Acker yelled, too.

Shutt says he thought Hicks reached down to grab something. Shutt assumed Hicks was reaching for a gun. That’s when Shutt fired his own gun, shooting both Hicks and Acker. Hit by the bullet, Hicks drove through the intersection and crashed into a tree. He died on the scene while Acker suffered a gunshot to his leg.

Acker denies Shutt’s claims. He says he and Hicks didn’t yell and that their hands were clearly visible the entire time.

An Arrest One Week Later

It took one week for Shutt to be arrested for the shooting. He was charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder, and he has been held without bail at the Pinellas County jail since his arrest in April 2019. His trial began this week.

In opening statements, Prosecutor Elizabeth Traverso pointed to the careless, remorseless way that Shutt handled himself after the shooting. She said Shutt didn’t call 911 after the incident. He didn’t tell his girlfriend. Instead, evidence shows he searched for information about countries that didn’t allow extradition back to the United States, according to reports by the Tampa Bay Times.

Police say that during their investigation, they found that Shutt had stockpiled weapons. He also saved videos and articles about mass shootings and murder. A search warrant says that Shutt also confessed to another shooting in an antique store in Delaware.

Shutt also had a record of careless driving. Just five days prior to the shooting, Shutt was cited for careless driving after causing a crash. According to a story by 10 Tampa Bay, he was also cited for reckless driving in 2018.

Despite the evidence against him, Shutt and his attorneys are claiming that he acted in self-defense. Will it work?

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

How To Prove Self Defense

In Florida, laws protect people who use deadly force when they feel their life is threatened.

Often referred to as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Florida Statute 776.012 says:

“A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.”

Florida Statute 782.02 also addresses self defense. It reads:

“The use of deadly force is justifiable when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person shall be.”

In self defense cases, a criminal defense attorney can argue that a defendant’s life was threatened, and they acted with deadly force to protect themself. To prove their case, Shutt’s attorney will need to prove that Shutt felt that Hicks and Acker were planning to take Shutt’s life before he took Hicks.

If Shutt fails to prove his claim, he could face life in prison.

The trial will continue this week.

Related: The Best Criminal Defense Attorneys Have These 7 Qualities

Talk to an Attorney You Can Trust

Facing any type of criminal charge is serious, and you need an attorney you can trust by your side. If you need legal advice about a criminal charge against you, talk to an experienced attorney right away to ensure that you get the most just and fair outcome possible.

If you need assistance, contact TJ Grimaldi today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 to schedule a call and discuss your case directly with TJ.